Truth in a Traffic Jam
Caught in traffic. Most anything is preferable (except perhaps being caught by a traffic camera.) And yet it turns out that a healthy dose of traffic is a good thing. Searching this term under Merriam-Webster’s full definition, one finds: “communication or dealings especially between individuals or groups.” In its broader sense, “traffic” refers to exchange between human beings, whether social or business. Traffic, as frustrating as it can to be, remains the “stuff” of human life. From impulsively “laying on the horn” to grimacing at a seventeen-year-old’s loud and proud playlist to (more generally) meeting the same coworker each morning in the office, traffic has revelatory power. It can tell me the truth about me.
The hubbub of daily life is where we express ourselves honestly. It can be a time for pleasant edification or regretful surprise. It can even be religious. This is because when our guard is down and we are exposed to the unexpected, we suddenly see ourselves in a different light. “Wow, she really kept her cool,” or “Yikes, what prompted me to say that?” People might wonder “how they’re doing” or how they appear in the eyes of others or even what God thinks of them. Well, one place to start is a traffic jam. And, if upon buckling up in the “driver’s seat” of life you discover the impulse to say or do things that you wouldn’t if your mother were in the passenger seat, know that you’re not the first person to have to deal with moral incongruity!
Although the Scriptures do not force us onto the beltway in order to prove our “real character,” the highway is one of many places where we can make the choices that inform who we are becoming on a deeper level. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35). This is the true road test: the coming up and swerving past and slowing down and honking and signaling and chatter of daily social and business interaction. This becomes our self-measure of human and spiritual progress. Here virtues or vices are gradually constructed or demolished. Here we have the choice to assimilate the spirit of the world or the spirit of God (cf. 1 Jn 4:1-6).
And here is the deepest truth about traffic: our proceeding to and fro, always with the possibility of having a real relationship with our peers, is reflective of the most inherently worthwhile thing that exists: God’s Trinitarian life. Actually, our interactions are only “lively” and worthwhile to the extent that they have their origin in God’s creative Word and find fulfillment in His Love. Baptism and the sacraments give us a share in this kind of life: “if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his own Spirit” (1 Jn 4:13).
Like any decent highway, life lived “in God” has some additional indicators to help us see how well we are handling this journey of ever-deepening love (see below). If we are realistic, we will admit that there are real obstacles to authentic imitation of divine love in our society in general and in our own hearts in particular. For this reason, general feelings of uncertainty and doubt, the experience of repeated frustrations, weakness, and poor choices in what matters, and a general lack of inspiration to connect with God and others should come as no surprise. This, however, does not mean that our attempts at communion are without real effect. Here are some of the Church’s “road signs” that the love of God is present and at work in us, quietly yet powerfully. With their guidance, may we receive an ever deeper share in His love.
- Faithfulness to the sacramental life, especially frequent Reconciliation and worthy reception of Holy Communion
- Growth in virtue, especially the theological virtues (Faith, Hope, and Charity) and the infused cardinal virtues (Prudence—a.k.a. “Right reason in action”—Justice, Courage, and Temperance)
- The presence of the Fruits of the Holy Spirit (Charity, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Generosity, Gentleness, Faithfulness, Modesty, Self-control, Chastity)